We all know life changes as our senior family members age. Relationships evolve, they may retire and need to fill their days in new ways, and they may lose important family members and friends as their peers age. But how do these changes affect them? It’s important we stay involved and monitor seniors closely to encourage and support the ways they maintain healthy lifestyles and rewarding social connections.
How important is social connection to seniors?
The National Seniors Council lists social isolation as a significant cause of the following:
– Poor health and wellness
– Higher levels of negative health habits
– Reduced social skills
– Higher levels of depression
– Decreased confidence and self-esteem
– Higher risk of suicide
– Increase risk of falls and other injuries
Social isolation is also a risk factor for:
– Elder abuse
– Financial abuse
– Increasing a senior’s fear to live alone or of strangers
Social isolation of seniors also affects the communities in which they live. When residents and neighbors have no connection to one another, everyone suffers. However, when we can keep seniors in their homes and communities with healthy connections, we can reduce the risk of depression. Statistics also show that an estimated 10-15% of seniors living in the community struggle with depression, while up to 44% living in residential care show symptoms of the same.
While we try to learn more about how to recognize social isolation in seniors and how serious a risk it poses to their mental and physical health, it’s important to also discuss how we can avoid it.
How do we keep seniors connected and thriving:
1. Encourage community within neighbourhoods, families, places of worship
Talk to your loved one about their community bonds and make sure they are keeping up with their usual favourite gathering places and regular events. Share information on new events in the community, offer assistance with transportation if necessary, and keep encouraging them to get out and share time with others. If they don’t have regular places to meet, help them create social time by organizing others to meet for cards, hobbies, fitness, book discussions or even a weekly coffee meeting.
2. Seek connection and information from support groups, organizations, agencies
Look for resources in your community for seniors as there may be hobby groups, health and wellness initiatives, informal walking groups, and government programs. Try checking the local library, wellness centres, neighbourhood medical centres, or a family doctor. The Kerby Center – Downtown Calgary or Confederation Park 55+ are an excellent source for community, socialization and drop in activities.
3. Monitor and identify mental health issues to ensure proper treatment is provided
Never assume your aging loved one is doing well simply because they say they are. Listen carefully for changes in interests, energy, and motivation to connect with others. If they sound nervous about going out or make excuses for changes in habits that are keeping them home, gently investigate. Keep open communication and check in regularly. If you can’t visit often or live out of town, arrange for someone to check in on them so you have unbiased information on their wellbeing.
4. Encourage healthy lifestyles while discouraging poor health habits
Make healthy lifestyles the norm and don’t hesitate to discuss healthy changes you’re making in your own life. Make suggestions, share recipes, offer to walk together or invite them to take part in family activities if you live locally. A visit to the park with grandchildren may not overtax a senior, but instead offer fresh air, an outing, some walking, and opportunity to chat and catch up. Don’t accept that poor health habits are okay because of their age. Their quality of life depends on how they care for themselves, and they may still have years ahead to enjoy.
5. Offer extra support during times of transition or change
When their lives change, as they always will, pay close attention. The loss of a spouse or close family member can be a serious blow to seniors, and discourage them from engaging with others. The loss of a friend or other contemporary may be a stark reminder of their own mortality. It may simply be too painful to discuss, and they may withdraw to hide their feelings. Transitions like moving, or major health changes, or other changes can create stress and anxiety. Stay in touch, offer to talk or listen or simply visit and share time. Talk to their family doctor if you notice warning signs of depression.
6. Work with your loved one to find solutions to obstacles, both real and perceived
Listen to what your senior loved one says when they start changing habits or retreating from social interaction, and don’t let routines slide or isolation start. Some of their reasons may be valid, others may be excuses, but listen for opportunities to help remove roadblocks. Seniors may be reluctant to admit shortcomings or to ask for help, but there may be help that can be offered that would keep them active and engaged. If winter streets are no longer appropriate for their walks, a nearby shopping mall is a handy alternative. If they’ve recently had to stop driving, explore nearby amenities and discuss transportation options like shared rides, public transportation, or taxicabs.
7. Rally family members, neighbors and friends, or explore in-home care support
Remember that aging loved ones in your family may not want to admit they feel lonely or isolated. It may not be in their nature to show vulnerability or ask for more support, but that doesn’t change their important need for social connection. You may need to talk to other family members, chat with friends and family, consult with their family doctor, or explore in-home care support to ensure they have the interaction they need. Planning visits, offering support, encouraging healthy lifestyles, and staying connected will take time and energy, but may make all the difference to the quality and length of life your aging loved one enjoys.
What if you need help providing support to your senior loved one?
For more information on when to know if the time is right to seek support, take our senior care assessment.
Have questions or feedback on what you just read? Please don’t hesitate to contact us, we’d love to chat with you.
~ Senior Homecare by Angels Calgary team